We are meditating on Joy because in our meditations on Evil, Rabbi Heschel reminded us that holiness is the prime medicine for evil.
What is holiness? How do we see holiness in ourselves and others? I am proposing that in dark times, holiness is detected by the twin realities of gift of Joy and Courage (which we will consider in later DMs). The two are very much related.
Julian of Norwich (1342-1429) is a trustworthy and down to earth teacher about Joy because she did not live in a time of peace and serenity but during the time of the most severe plague in all of Europe—the bubonic plague of the 14th century.
Rejecting denial as an option, she chose a path of depth and courage and dared to journey deep into the capacities of her own soul. She also counseled others from her anchorage attached to a simple church in Norwich.
In her deep soul journeys, she found joy—lots of it—in spite of the very bad news going on all around her. She invites us to do the same.
Julian, the first woman to write a book in English, actually invented the English word enjoy. That is how important her finding joy in the midst of peril and suffering was to her. She adapted it from an old French word, enjoier, meaning rejoicing.
This reminds me of a young artist I knew years ago who lived and painted in a tough neighborhood in San Francisco and when I asked him what he wanted to do with his life he paused and responded, “to make revelry hip.”
Webster’s defines revelry as “noisy partying or merrymaking.” Another name for revelry might be celebration.
I trust Julian when she teaches about Joy because she tasted deep suffering (it is very likely that she lost a husband and a child in the plague)—but she also knows that joy is deeper than grief.
We have seen Aquinas talk about the “Sheer Joy” of God. Julian spells out what she calls the “five supreme delights of divinity”:
God rejoices that he is our Father.
God rejoices that he is our Mother.
God rejoices that he is our Beloved and we are his true lover.
Christ rejoices that he is our Brother.
Jesus rejoices that he is our Savior.
These are five supreme joys in which divinity never ceases being joyful.
To be continued.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 25-29.
And Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, (2015 version), pp. 6f.
To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Banner Image: Julian of Norwich and the Hazelnut. Detail of a painting by Ronaldo Tuazon, cover image of Matthew Fox’s book, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – And Beyond.
Queries for Contemplation
“Revelry” and “Revelation” seem to be related words. How much of revelation is revelry or celebration for you? And how much of celebration is revelation for you?
Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond
Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.” –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.
Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)
Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self